The Brooklyn Couple with a Sweet Love Story
Crystal Anderson is a creative producer and street fashion style star in Brooklyn (her Instagram is a must-follow if you love fashion). But many of us first met Crystal through a sweetly riveting video of her and her fiancée, Kiesh, in conversation about what they love about each other. The video has over three-million views; it really touched people. We wanted to spend a little more time with the couple, ask them what they ate on their first date, and hear all about Crystal’s epic crab boils and the role food plays in her mental health.
I’m sure I’m not the first or even 100th person to tell you how much they cried during that Refinery29 video you and Kiesh did together. Your love is so big! I’m curious: How do you show each other love in cooking or the choices you make in the kitchen?
Kiesh can be a picky eater, so I think when she goes out of her way to be more adventurous it shows me that she really cares — because I am so adventurous when it comes to food. She’s so sweet; she always tries to find restaurants to satiate my need for like, octopus and chicken liver pâté.
For me with her, it’s thinking about what she doesn’t love — like, she hates mushrooms and I love them — so it’s up to me to be a little more creative and change some of my go-to dishes so she can enjoy them as well.
What was the first restaurant or meal you guys made together?
The first restaurant we went to was Extra Fancy — it’s this seafood restaurant in Williamsburg. Kiesh found it — it was so cute. She thought it was supposed to be fancy, but it was more of a roadhouse type of place with shrimp po’boys. I got dressed up and we get there and it was picnic table-style, which is great for me, but I think she was a little bummed that it wasn’t as hardcore romantic.
Speaking of seafood, I hear you guys do these epic crab boils all the time. I need to know everything: How did this all start? And is it really a regular thing?
Crab boils are a regular thing in our house — I’ll make it on a Tuesday. I don’t believe in special foods that are only for special occasions. Life is so goddamn hard already, you need to celebrate! Especially as a queer black person moving in the world, you gotta celebrate. You have to indulge. That’s the way I feel about food — that’s the way I show my love. It’s the same way I feel about clothes. If I have a weird ballgown I want to wear, I’ll wear it to work for a meeting.
Kiesh and I both love crab boils. It’s one of the easiest meals to cook because it’s all in one pot with very few ingredients. You start with the butter, then the potatoes, then the sausage, then the seafood like crab legs, and then your corn. And then you put your shrimp in for the last 10 minutes or so. It’s very communal. You don’t give anyone forks or knives — you just dig in. When Kiesh and I got engaged in August, we had 40 to 50 people over and we did a big crab boil for everyone.
You’re the manager of production at Man Repeller, so it’s not surprising that you have incredible style. Where, if at all, do you find that kind of creativity in the kitchen?
When it comes to cooking, there’s nothing off the table for me. I love trying new things. Color is very important to me when I’m cooking; I like the plate to be beautiful. I get creative with spices. I love playing with truffle flavoring. I got this truffle powder from Bed, Bath & Beyond and I put it on popcorn and it’s so good — it’s just decadent. Kiesh doesn’t like it though.
- Biggest challenge in eating? I don’t have any challenges personally, because i’ll pretty much try ANYTHING! But like I said, Kiesh is picky, so sometimes we have to agree to disagree on things like oysters, grilled octopus, mushrooms, etc! She did hate shrimp, which is one of my fave foods, so I learned to prepare them in a way that she loves! Small wins.
- Percentage of meals you cook at home every week? 100%? Kidding. I wish that were the case. Right now, probably about 30% but I’m trying to be better about that.
- 5 things on your grocery list every week? Cilantro, shrimp, onions, chicken thighs, garlic.
- Where do you shop, primarily? Trader Joe’s is my go-to for most everything and then I hit up Whole Foods or our seafood monger on Canal Street for our meats and seafoods.
- What’s the last food thing you splurged on? Probably ordering pasta on the Caviar app and then spending an ungodly amount to add truffles.
- Top 3 default dinners? Crab boil, some sort of shrimp dish, takeout from Caviar!
- Favorite tea? Sweet tea, ice cold, no lemon. There is literally no other way!
- Best underrated snack? Honey Nut Cheerios, straight out of the box.
- Best cookie of all time? Milk Bar Composte Cookie, hands-down.
- Who does the dishes in your home? Kiesh, bless her entire heart. We have a dishwasher but she finds washing them by hand “soothing.” So, I let her soothe herself while I sit on the couch after I’ve cooked a beautiful meal!
Walk me through what a typical day might look like for you right now. What’s on your plate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?
In the morning Kiesh will take our dog, Blanche, out for a walk, and then I’ll prepare Blanche’s food. Blanche doesn’t eat dog food because she’s a diva. I make her organic rice, chicken, and green beans every day, twice a day, which is absurd. She eats better than me! Then I head into the office. I usually get a whole-wheat wrap with egg whites and turkey bacon from the bodega. That’s my go-to breakfast — with a coffee, and a Diet Coke.
If I don’t have any offsite meetings, I’ll either order in for lunch or I’ll bring my lunch. My favorite place to eat around our office is 19 Cleveland — it’s this Mediterranean spot that’s so good. I get the chicken hummus, the house bread, and the tuna crudo. It’s a decadent lunch. When I’m having a shitty day, that’s what I eat.
If I bring my lunch for the week, I’ll get stuff from Trader Joe’s that’s pre-packaged because it’s easier to count my macros; that way I make sure I get the right proteins, carbs, and fats. I get this herb-roasted spaghetti squash in the freezer section. I also really love those Welch’s PB&J sandwiches. When you have a bunch of meetings, it’s just easy for me to grab something like that and go.
What about dinner?
A lot of the time I’ll cook. It’s usually very seafood-heavy — you can come up with something beautiful and decadent and it takes like, 20 minutes. Seafood holds seasoning really well, you don’t need a ton of ingredients for it taste really good, and it’s so easy. People get intimated by it and overcook it and think they can’t make it — but the key is really just not to try so hard.
You’ve lived in New York for 15 years, but you grew up in South Carolina. Tell me how the South influences your cooking?
My mom has 13 brothers and sisters and I have 72 first cousins. And how we celebrated anything — graduations, birthdays, weddings — was always centered around soul food. Every woman I know from my family, food is their love language. There was always a lot of fried chicken, potato salads, desserts for days, and everything was made from scratch. And then some things were a little out there like pig intestine. I also ate this thing called giblet gravy — which is the neck of the turkey that gets made into gravy. So I’m pretty sure that’s where all my love for food off the beaten path comes from.
In the South — especially as black folk — you have to eat every part of the animal because you’re feeding so many people. So they learned to create beautiful food with so very little. It’s one of the things I love most about how I cook now.
You’ve been very open about your struggles with mental health, which I find really inspiring. How does food fit into how you take care of yourself?
My mental health is everything to me. And to me self-care and self-preservation are two different things. I put self-preservation over self-care, because I do suffer from a lot of disorders that can’t be cured with a pedicure (not that there is anything wrong with a pedicure).
Food is the basis for my self preservation — and it’s not just about the act of preparing the food, it’s about everything leading up to that moment. When I was at my lowest point I wasn’t eating, I wasn’t showering, I wasn’t leaving the house. So in order for me to make myself food again, I needed to physically get up, take a shower, I had to make a grocery list, I had to go to the store, I have to figure out a way back home. I have to make those steps, I have no other options — I have to go. I do it. So for me that’s a large part of self-preservation. If I feel like I can’t even get up to go to the grocery store, then I need to talk to my therapist, and I need to let my partner know that I’m in a low place.
That’s so powerful. What are the things you have to have in your kitchen? The things that make you happy?
I have to have my vintage cast iron skillets. You can pretty much make the world if you have them — they can go in the oven, toaster oven, under the broiler, on the stove — they can take a lickin’. Especially if they’ve been salted properly and they’re really old. My mom is a big thrifter so she always finds me ones — little tiny ones and big ones — and it’s such a special thing. It’s how my grandma cooked, too. We call the pans “black spiders” in the South, at least in my family. That’s when I finally felt like an adult — when I had a cool kitchen with all of my black spiders.
And then outside of that, I love my knife. I have a big butcher knife that I use for everything and everyone thinks I’m crazy, but I love it.
Okay, last question: Talk to me about these flame Crocs. Are they … Guy Fieri-inspired? I saw you made a reference to Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives while you wearing the Crocs on Instagram.
I think Guy gets a lot of flak. People love to hate him. But no, they aren’t Guy Fieri-inspired, they just look like something he would wear. He’s a clown, I’m a clown, I feel for him.
The Way We Eat is a series of profiles and conversations with people like you about how they feed themselves and their families.We’re actively looking for people to feature in this series. You don’t have to be famous or even a good cook! We’re interested in people of all backgrounds and eating habits. How do you overcome challenges to feed yourself? If you’d like to share your own story with us, or if you know of someone you think would be great for this series, start here with this form.